Paying for College

How Much Does College Cost? Our Family’s Expenses for All Four Years

September 2, 2014

How much does college cost How much does college cost? I’ve been tracking our college costs for our daughter, Lindsey, down to the last dollar through four years of college and – I’m going to be honest – this final update was the trickiest to do.

You can see the first three years of updates here: year 1, year 2, year 3. In those posts the costs are neatly broken down into categories of tuition, fees, room board, etc. And that’s because – except for her spending money which she was responsible for – I paid for everything directly from our checking account and could track it carefully (obsessively?)

But last year was a year of transition between college and adulthood for Lindsey and we went about paying for our expenses a little differently.

First, our tuition and fees costs for this year were zero. A big, fat zero. In fact, KU put a few hundred dollars back into our checking account and it was all thanks to Lindsey’s hard work at earning scholarships.

But despite having no tuition expenses, overall our expenses went up for the year.

What’s up with that?

Primarily it was because Lindsey’s housing situation changed from living in the sorority (and before that a dorm) to living in a rented house with several other girls. Each girl had her own bedroom and had to pay for rent, utilities, groceries, etc. No more one flat rate for room and board.

We opted to give Lindsey one check from us a month to pay these expenses to get her used to budgeting a set amount and also having the experience of writing out checks for rent and utilities and get them paid on time.

And because Tom and I weren’t paying for tuition or fees, we elected to make her check each month a generous one ($1200 – $1300/month) and we encouraged her to save what she didn’t spend. (Lindsey was also working a paid internship and a part-time campus job while going to school so she really did save some of her money each month.)

And that’s how I find myself in the position of not having our expenses for the year fall neatly into the same categories as before or even knowing exactly what they were. Honestly, for those reasons I thought about not doing the update at all, but I really wanted to finish out the four years for consistency’s sake.

So here’s the bottom line of what’s here:

  • Tuition and fees are $0 because of scholarships (yay Lindsey!)
  • Room and board covers what we sent her to pay for rent, utilities, & food and some of that went into savings
  • The rest should be pretty self-explanatory

KU Graduation

Senior Year Expenses

Tuition/Fees/Room & Board/Books: $13,484

  • Tuition = $0*
  • Fees = $0*
  • Room, Board & Spending Money = $13,075
  • Renter’s Insurance = $153
  • Books = $212
  • Cap & gown purchase $44

*After scholarships

Sorority: $2554

  • Dues & House Maintenance: $1782
  • Moms/Dads Weekends, Senior Dinner = $772.21

Total: $16,038

Expenses for All Four Years

With senior year in the books, here’s what my husband and I paid out for college, broken down by year:

  • Freshman year: $17,435
  • Sophomore year: $13,171
  • Junior year: $13,936
  • Study/intern abroad summer: $11,025
  • Senior year: $16,038

Total: $71,605

Does that seem like a big number to you? It does to me! I’m kind of amazed and proud that as a family we were able to pull this off in cash with no debt.

I’ve written about this on the blog a lot, but the shorthand version is this:

  1. We started with an affordable option (in-state public university).
  2. Scholarships were applied.
  3. We gave my side gigs (bookkeeping and blogging) the job of helping to pay for college.
  4. Lindsey worked both during summers and the school year.
  5. What we were left with was a manageable enough figure to pay for from our regular cash-flow.

So there it is…one college education in the books.

Saint Louis University Fountain
Grant as we dropped him off at Saint Louis University

And we’ve just made the first two monthly payments toward the second one. Here we go again…
















  1. I’m on my third, and tuition, room and board is about $18,500. EVERYTHING else will be on my daughter’s shoulders. It’s amazing how much tuition, room and board goes up. In our experience, when our second daughter lived off campus it was LESS expensive. Of course, I was not nearly as generous as you were. Her rent was $350/mos (12 mos) and I gave her $250 – $300 for food. She worked and made some money here and there, and she always had money over. There were some months when she said she didn’t need any food money, because she didn’t spend all of it the month before. I’m thinking I won’t be so lucky with my third daughter. Rents, food, etc. have all gone up, but I did like the option of off campus housing.

    1. I’m glad she had the experience of living off campus her senior year, but her rent was $575 + utilities, so our expenses definitely went up. I can’t imagine being on my third, with one still to go, Sharon. Good for you guys!

  2. Our 3rd just graduated in May. Living off campus was definitely more expensive. They get you with the12 month lease, the rent was $880 for a room in a huge house, and then the landlord wanted to be paid “by the semester”. So very expensive. Tuition at private Ivy was astronomical, no aide, so you can imagine. But it is over. He is now self supporting. Now if grad school enters picture…

    1. Glad the expenses are behind you. Can’t imagine an ivy league tuition with no aid. I hear you on the 12 month lease, and by the semester? Ouch.

  3. Wow, I am curious what my costs were. I know I was able to finish 4 years of college in 2 years by going year around. I also live close enough to bike 7 miles each way and live at home and worked during school. It made it possible to graduate without debt which was as important to me as getting my degree. Crazy what it costs now days. Makes you wonder if it is sustainable in the long run.

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